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BMW 545e plug-in hybrid (2021) review

BMW mixes six-cylinder power with plug-in hybrid frugality, but is it an engine too far?

Neil Briscoe

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Dave Humphreys - @LordHumphreys

Published on: November 26, 2021

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Dave Humphreys - @LordHumphreys

Published on: November 26, 2021

Tech Specs

Model testedBMW 545e M Sport
Irish pricing€75,514 as tested; 5 Series starts at €55,974
Hybrid systemturbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine, 80kW electric motor and 12.0kWh battery
Transmissioneight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive
Body stylefour-door, five-seat saloon
CO2 emissions49-53g/km
Irish motor tax€140 per annum
Combined economy128-122mpg (2.2-2.3 litres/100km)
Electric range47-54km
Energy consumption19.1-17.7kWh/100km
Top speed250km/h
0-100km/h4.6 seconds
Max power394hp
Max torque600Nm
Boot space410 litres
Towing2,000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
SafetyEuro NCAP rating for BMW 5 Series

BMW 545e M Sport overview

BMW is most definitely at the forefront of electric car development. The brand got off to a false start of sorts with the far-sighted i3 and i8 models, but now - with something of a lag - it's catching up fast with impressive electric models such as the i4, iX and iX3. However, ask any car enthusiast what BMW is most famous for, and right behind 'rear-wheel drive' in the list will be 'straight-six engines.'

The BMW straight-six has, of course, been a founding legend of the Munich marque, and it's a sad fact that in the next few years - for admittedly entirely good reasons - those big sixes will be slowly culled. However, in the here and now there's a chance to bring together the two hands of BMW's electric car expertise and its classic engine layout, resulting in the 545e you see here. Can it be the best of both worlds? Or is it a messy boondoggle?

The BMW 5 Series model range

Since time immemorial, the BMW 5 Series range has kicked off with the 520d diesel four-cylinder saloon, in SE trim. Prices for that model start at €55,974 and an eight-speed automatic gearbox comes as standard. The engine line-up walk for SE then goes through the petrol 520i at €57,004; the four-wheel-drive 520d xDrive at €59,844; the four-cylinder plug-in hybrid 530e at €61,215; the 530e xDrive at €63,665; the 545e xDrive six-cylinder plug-in hybrid at €71,214; and the six-cylinder diesel 530d xDrive at €74,195.

Standard equipment for SE models includes 17- or 18-inch alloys (depending on the model), dynamic LED brake lights, ambient cabin lighting, two-zone automatic air conditioning, sports leather steering wheel, heated front seats, LED headlights, parking assistant, cruise control with brake function, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlights, a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, connected services and the BMW digital voice assistant.

Stepping up to the ever-popular M Sport grade means you pay a minimum of €60,785 for a 520d; €62,025 for a 520i; €64,744 for a 520d xDrive; €65,525 for a 530e plug-in hybrid; €67,975 for a 530e xDrive; €75,514 for a 545e xDrive plug-in hybrid; and €79,214 for a 530d xDrive six-cylinder diesel.

Extra equipment for M Sport models includes 18- or 19-inch alloys (again, depending on the specific model), an M Sport exterior body kit, 'high-gloss shadowline' black exterior trim, sports seats and an M Sport steering wheel, dark headlining, 'Sensatec' trim for the dashboard, M Sport suspension (albeit not for the 530e versions) and M Sport brakes (for the larger-engined models).

Above the M Sport versions, there's an M Sport Edition pack, which includes 20-inch alloys, special paint options, a rear spoiler, multi-function seats, sun protection glass and adaptive LED lights with high-beam assistant.

While the mighty M5 is effectively a separate model (and is priced from a whopping €188,785) there is the fractionally more affordable M550i option, which costs €130,424 and, while it's not as extreme as the 620hp M5, it does provide 530hp, and accelerates from 0-100km/h in a brief 3.8 seconds, so it's hardly the poverty option.

BMW Ireland currently has a PCP finance offer, which would put a new 5 Series on your drive for €567 per month, with an €18,236 deposit and a €26,047 final payment, at an APR interest rate of 3.9 per cent. Visit the BMW Ireland website for its most up-to-date finance offers.

The BMW 545e M Sport interior

In many ways, the 545e's cabin is an object lesson in how to design and execute a terrific vehicular interior. For a start, quality levels are just off-the-scale good. At one point, there was a general hierarchy among the German Big Three car makers, which put Audi at the top for cabin quality, Mercedes in the middle and BMW a close third. Now, though, it's more like BMW at or near the top with the other two vying for either a close second or challenging for first.

Everything in the 545e's cabin looks and feels terrific, although the surprising thing is that it's actually a little bit old-fashioned. Yes, there's the big 12.3-inch touchscreen, and yes there's the equally big 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, but there are old-school physical buttons for the climate control system, for the driving mode selection and even for the radio pre-sets. Old-fashioned? Yes, but in the best way possible - although there are quite a few buttons, you can soon find your way around the cabin with ease, and it's far more intuitive to operate the 545e's various systems than it is in the more screen-based environments of some rivals.

Of course, there is that screen and the BMW iDrive system (the 545e runs version 7.0 edition of the software) is a fairly clear and easy-to-navigate infotainment setup. Certainly, all of the graphics looks sharp and suitably expensive, but there is a little over-complication in that you can control the screen either with the iDrive click-wheel down on the centre console, or the buttons on the steering wheel, or the screen itself is a touchscreen, or there's voice control, or for some functions there's (entirely pointless) 'gesture control.' It's nice to have choices, but this is a bit much.

In front of the gear selector, there's a covered storage space that includes a wireless phone charging pad, a USB-A socket and two small cupholders. There's more storage under the front centre armrest, including two USB-C ports and a 12-volt socket, but the space there is shallow. Equally the door pockets are a touch narrow.

In the back, don't bother trying to get someone to sit in the centre rear seat - it's too narrow and too lumpy, but there's good comfort to be had in the outer two seats (both of which get ISOFIX anchors). Rear seat passengers get their own temperature controls, as well as two USB-C sockets, but what they don't get is a huge amount of space - in fact, all-round the 5 Series' cabin feels a touch tight in every dimension. It's not cramped, but it's certainly not as airily spacious as that of an Audi A6 or Lexus ES 300h.

There is compensation, up front, in that the driver's seat is excellent, although on very long journeys we noticed that the seat cushion could start to feel a touch too flat, and that a little more support would have been nice.

The boot on the 545e suffers a lot from the needs to package both a petrol fuel tank and the battery for the electric drive. In fact, it's cut to 410 litres - that's 120 litres less than you get in a standard 520d or 520i, so if you're planning to use a 545e for family holidays, pack light. Of course, that could be considered a handy excuse to just go and buy the more handsome and more practical 5 Series Touring estate instead...

The BMW 545e driving experience

OK, this being a plug-in hybrid, you're going to want to know about the 545e's electric performance. In general, it's incredibly good - fully charge the 12.0kWh battery and BMW claims you can go for a maximum of 57km on electric power. Given our test car's 20-inch wheels, that's perhaps not the most realistic figure, and we were getting more like 35-40km out of a charge. Not bad, but not great either.

However, the way in which the electric half of the powertrain combines with the petrol half is really, really good. The 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol inline-six engine is a paragon of BMW engineering. It's so smooth, you'd swear it was sponsored by Avonmore as a cream spokesperson, and refinement in all circumstances is just exemplary. When you're running on electric power alone, tyre and wind noise are well-suppressed. When running with the petrol engine awake... well, to be honest you'd hardly notice most of the time.

Until, that is, you put your foot down. Then the petrol and electric bits combine to produce nigh-on 400hp, and a very impressive 600Nm of torque. Switch the 545e over to Sport mode, and the system kicks like a hybrid mule (Wait; isn't a mule already a hybrid? - Ed) and the 0-100km/h acceleration time of 4.6 seconds is closer to M-car territory than to traditional saintly hybrid stuff. It sounds great, too - never especially loud, but with a distant, intimidating snarl that sounds as if an army of angry wolves is attacking the next county over.

Happily, the 545e has the sort of chassis balance to cope with the electric-assisted grunt. Surprisingly, it's not at all firm-riding. Well, just firm enough actually, but also with a lovely sense of built-in suppleness that doesn't quite wash away the worst lumps and bumps of Irish tarmac, but gently reminds you that they're there, without actually discomfiting you. As a long-haul proposition, in comfort terms, the 545e is hard to beat.

It's brilliant in the corners too. BMW has definitely stolen something of a lead in making electric-boosted power steering systems feel and respond like traditional hydraulic setups and that, combined with impressive body control and a sense of agility that belies the 545e's 1,945kg kerb weight, turns this big, comfortable executive saloon into a leather-lined hooligan on the right road. The presence of xDrive four-wheel drive means that it's entirely reassuring when that road is slick with rain and falling leaves, too.

The price for all this? Fuel consumption. If you diligently charge your 545e up every night and make as full use of the electric range as possible, then you should be able to achieve some reasonable fuel economy figures. On longer journeys, though, even driven with care, it can get very thirsty. 6.5-7.5 litres per 100km is do-able on long runs, but you'll often be on the wrong side of 8.0 litres per 100km, and with a small 46-litre fuel tank, you'll be stopping to refuel a lot.

Our verdict on the 545e

In many ways, the 545e doesn't make a whole heap of sense. For considerably less cash, the 530e has similar electric performance, looks as good, steers as sweetly and is much more economical on a long run. However, the 545e's mix of big-six performance, refinement and noise is a hugely persuasive one, and if you take the time and make the effort to maximise its electric performance, then you have a car that can glide guilt-free around town, but which can turn in a true, traditional, BMW straight-six performance on the open road. That's tough to argue with.

What do the rest of the team think?

If there was to be a drivers' plug-in hybrid then the BMW 545e would be in the running due to its blend of electric power and sublime six-cylinder engine. It makes for an appealing package and one that isn't short on performance. The buttery smooth straight-six remains some of BMW's best work and the added shove from the electric motor gives it stealthy pace. All that could make this better would be a Touring version, but sadly BMW isn't going to offer it.

Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor



Alternatives

Car Reviews | Audi A6 50 TFSI e hybrid (2021) | CompleteCar.ie
Audi A6 TFSI e vs. BMW 545e plug-in hybrid (2021): the A6 has only a four-cylinder engine to the 545e's six, and is really more of a rival to the 530e. Nonetheless, it has a roomier cabin, impressive electric performance and is to my eyes better looking on the outside than the BMW.

Car Reviews | Lexus ES 300h (2022) | CompleteCar.ie
Lexus ES 300h vs. BMW 545e plug-in hybrid (2021): recently updated, the Lexus is a simpler, more sedate choice. It lacks entirely the 545e's performance, or its sense of driving fun, but there's no messing with cables or charging, and it's as impressively frugal in real-world conditions as it is relaxing to drive.
Car Reviews | Mercedes-Benz E 300 de hybrid (2021) | CompleteCar.ie
Mercedes-Benz E 300 de vs. BMW 545e plug-in hybrid (2021): the E-Class doesn't have the 545e's sonorous soundtrack, and it's not as much fun to drive, but the diesel-electric powertrain mix is a convincing one, mixing a heady hit of low-down torque with excellent economy on longer runs. If you want electric power around town, but need to do regular long motorway hauls, it's a good choice.

Tech Specs

Model testedBMW 545e M Sport
Irish pricing€75,514 as tested; 5 Series starts at €55,974
Hybrid systemturbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine, 80kW electric motor and 12.0kWh battery
Transmissioneight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive
Body stylefour-door, five-seat saloon
CO2 emissions49-53g/km
Irish motor tax€140 per annum
Combined economy128-122mpg (2.2-2.3 litres/100km)
Electric range47-54km
Energy consumption19.1-17.7kWh/100km
Top speed250km/h
0-100km/h4.6 seconds
Max power394hp
Max torque600Nm
Boot space410 litres
Towing2,000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
SafetyEuro NCAP rating for BMW 5 Series